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And a bigger question: Is the widespread adoption of the smart cities model really just six to 10 years away?
Municipalities still struggle to explain what “smart cities” are and how utilities enable them, despite increased investment in innovation from public-private partnerships, according to a new Black & Veatch Insights Group report.
Students of the smart city phenomenon would be wise to research how utilities handle long-term sustainability and workforce retirements to inform government planning.
Automation, cloud-based services and data-driven decisionmaking are priorities of both smart cities and utilities, but governments must effectively map out their integration, according to the report:
Fundamental investments in improved telecom networks, traffic management, and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) of core services represent the first wave of smart city programs. Ironically, these critical programs do not receive the same headline-grabbing attention as data analytics and customer-experience technologies. It is surprising that we don’t see more leaders recognizing that these efforts are in fact “smart” and should be valued as such. Transitioning from a mindset that smart programs are “add-ons” to budget items misses the reality that smart investments should be a component of every budget item.
Government responses to the “Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility” survey rose more than 400 percent from last year, indicating a growing emphasis on smart infrastructure. But everything from tight budgets to security concerns remain barriers to adoption of smart technology, with more than a third of government respondents saying widespread use of the smart city model is still six to 10 years off.
Increasingly, environmental and resource sustainability pushes are leading to smart city initiatives, but 40.6 percent of respondents said proof of strong ROI was needed—most without being able to put a finger on the required rate of return.
When it came to investing in smart city basics, most agencies planned to spend $5 million or less on communications infrastructure in the next two to three years.
High-speed data networks are far and away what organizations think of when they preference smart city programs with energy management systems, smart water systems and smart transportation also high on their to-do lists.
As for challenges facing utilities, lack of automation and aging equipment rated highest among respondents, but only 16 percent of agencies attempted to integrate smart grid, smart water and automation projects.
Also worth noting, 37.8 percent of utilities hadn’t made any commitment to creating new roles or constructs to analyze data, despite 65.2 percent saying there would be benefits to asset management and 60.3 percent to evaluating operational/maintenance options.
The complete report can be read here.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.